I love great drama films as much I love great films from any other genre. Like any other genre, though, it isn’t without its pitfalls. I love drama, but I hate melodrama. Many people watch movies to transport themselves into another world, drama usually being the closest thing you get to real life. So, when I watch a drama film, I want a sense of authenticity and realism to it. Sure, people do yell and scream at each other in real life, and there are some sappy individuals out there, but I don’t like feeling like my emotions are being played. If the film is truly great, I should be able to feel the emotions the filmmakers without any silly manipulation. 

Set in the summer of 1983, Call Me By Your Name follows 17-year-old Elio Perlman (Timothée Chalamet), an introvert who would rather spend his summer inside reading books than outside in the sun. Elio’s father Mr. Perlman (Michael Stuhlbarg), an archaeology professor, invites college student Oliver (Armie Hammer) to stay for the summer to help him with his academic work. Elio shows Oliver around the Italian countryside and they quickly develop an attraction to one another. Knowing the scrutiny they would receive behind their relationship, they try their hardest to keep their feelings at bay. Can you really deny true love, though? 

The key to a romantic drama film working is actually believing the romance between the characters. With Timothée Chalamet and Armie Hammer, it feels like a totally natural relationship between the two. The dialogue isn’t showy and the drama isn’t hyper charged or melodramatic. It’s all very natural, where they both feel just like a couple of guys enjoying each other’s company. Chalamet is the big standout here, being only 23, but more than holding his own against the more established stars. It’s an emotionally charged performance that requires a lot of range and he pulls it off perfectly. Armie Hammer is more commanding when he’s on screen, and his more outgoing demeanor and maturity is a nice contrast to Chalamet’s performance. Michael Stuhlbarg as Mr. Perlman seems to represent aspects of both of these characters, and it shows in his enthusiasm for archaeology, while also having a soft, emotional side. There’s so much passion in every performance. Everything about characters and story feels incredibly natural, even when the film sometimes hamfistedly explains its themes and ideas. Do we really need Mr. Perlman to monologue about resisting your urges and finding true beauty? 

While this naturalness added to the film’s beauty, it also made me uncomfortable a times, but not due to the subject matter, and not in a negative way. Director Luca Guadagnino presents the relationship with a lot of wide shots of them conversing, riding their bicycles, or lying in bed together. Since it feels so real and we have such a large view of the characters and their surroundings, it almost feels voyeuristic, in a way. This no doubt makes the film a pleasure to look at, though, with a lot of lush, vibrant cinematography capturing the gorgeous Italian environment. The mostly piano and acoustic guitar laden score compliments the scenery wonderfully, really making it feel like a serene, relaxing summer. It’s also used as a neat narrative device, as Elio constantly has music on his mind. There are moments with him and Oliver with no music, but when Oliver leaves for a brief moment, the score comes out in full force, showing just how many emotions are racing through Elio’s head.

As great as these characters were, I wish I got to spend more time with them, because by the end, I didn’t have the emotional response I felt I should have. There’s a lot of setup to Elio and Oliver’s relationship and it doesn’t really kick in until near the hour mark. Elio starts off the film with a girlfriend, but as he and Oliver get more intimate, he realizes where his true feelings lie. It’s essentially a coming of age story with Elio discovering the kind of person he really is, primarily through his sexuality. While he is quite intelligent, he’s still incredibly immature, not realizing his temptations can have potentially dire consequences. Oliver realizes this and tries his best to keep their relationship from developing, but even he can’t resist his emotions. It’s both a touching and heartbreaking love story, but enough time wasn’t devoted to it. There are a lot of scenes with Elio and his parents and friends, many of them very brief. While important scenes to build his character, I felt it detracted from the main plot, which I wanted to see more of. 

Although I wasn’t fully emotionally satisfied by the end, Call Me By Your Name is still a beautiful film about forbidden love and discovering your true desires. This wouldn’t have been achieved without the two fantastic performances, the natural writing to back them up, and the visually splendid direction, though. No cheese or melodrama to be found here. Apparently Guadagnino wants to make a sequel and while I’m mostly a fan of one and done stories, I would love to revisit these characters again and see what more could be explored. 


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